A co-year AC90 is going through rough times since many years, with a number of personal issues requiring partial financial support, although he/she is working and battling through the struggle. Documents about the case were spontaneously sent to me.
In a nutshell: financial difficulties as a result of legal cost to fight prejudice.
I have spoken to our co-year to better understand the situation. I pledged to reach out to all of our year and keep his/her identity confidential. Funds will be used to fight for educational Justice for all. I sincerely hope our sense of Solidary, UWC Fraternity and the possibility to support this cause can materialize to the extent of everyone’s possibilities. The help is urgent.
STRUGGLE: TRIAL AFTER TRIAL LOOKING FOR JUSTICE. SOME OF OUR CO-YEAR WORDS
I am thinking of how to express my feelings, my fight and all the suffering we have been going through, but it is hard to summarize it all in brief.
When my son was only four years old, his schoolteacher decided that he was “mentally ill” and began to treat him as if he were in fact mentally ill. My other son, also four, has autism and goes to a special class in a different school and all of a sudden, at the start of the new school year, the teacher at the “normal” state school would call us and tell us that we had to come and pick up my non-autistic son, saying that he had had an “episode”. She insinuated that our healthy son also has autism; sometimes she suggested that he suffered from childhood schizophrenia. Within a few weeks, we began to live in daily fear of these telephone calls. They would call us at work, one of us would come to school, the teacher would complain about our son’s behaviour, say he had had another “episode”, and we would find him locked into a room – alone, distraught and terrified. At home, his behaviour continued normal: energetic, active, a right nuisance if you ask his sisters – but a perfectly normal four-year old.
We had many meetings with the school and were told to get “treatment”. We sought out a psychologist and a paediatric psychiatrist for assessment and treatment, but after a thorough assessment of our son and the family we were told that he had no issues. He is not autistic and he definitely does not have schizophrenia – nor could any other mental health disorder be identified. He was a healthy, normal child. We cannot treat a healthy child, we were told.
The school was not happy with this and complained that we were not cooperating. His teacher continued to report “episodes” and talk of his “mental illness” and call us; we kept on hurrying away from work to pick him up, several times every week. Eventually, they excluded him “until such a time that his parents provide medical treatment for his condition”. He was expelled. We filed a complaint, we had meetings, we reported the psychiatrist’s conclusion: that he has no mental health condition and that he cannot be treated for being a healthy child. The school responded by reporting us to social services.
Fortunately, I was able to get him a place at the school where I work, and he has since done well. He continues to be full of energy, noisy and – according to his sisters – annoying (their language is more direct, though), but he is doing well at school; his teacher is happy with his progress and he has friends. He has recovered from the trauma his teacher at the old school left him with. Social services looked into our “case” and promptly closed it. (It sounds easy, but it was a hard time for us as parents.)
As a mother, as a teacher myself and as a former law student I could not leave the matter where it was, and brought legal proceedings against the school. Instead of supporting the parents at a school, especially a family that already has one disabled child, how can educational professionals stigmatize their own pupils – because a child has a sibling with a disability? How is it possible that a school, which should support its pupils and their families, engages in reprisals against individual pupils and their families, reporting them to social services? I felt that I owed it to my son to protest against the treatment he had been given.
Let us just say that the legal system in my country is still archaic, and that much is left to the discretion of sometimes elderly and very conservative judges. In court, accusations that we were unfit parents were levelled at us; the first question asked at the trial was “Do you know that the student has a brother autistic who could not be enrolled at this school?" We lost the case and were sent a judgment setting out our many failings as parents.
I cannot help feeling that our main failing was that of having one foreign, non-white parent and a disabled sibling.
We have the feeling we are facing prejudices. We did everything the school told us to do, namely to bring him to the school psychologist and then to a consultant psychiatrist. None of them could find any mental illness. Nevertheless, the school expelled him.
We felt we could not accept this injustice against our son. He is happy at his new school, but we don’t want him or his sisters to think that it is acceptable to suffer discrimination because they have a brother who has autism. We want them to know that we are there for them and that we fight discrimination and injustice, and that they are worth everything to us. We don’t want other families to go through what we have suffered. No child should be denied the right to education.
We lost the civil action, and have to pay legal costs. Our lawyer tells us that we have a good case, and we filed an appeal. If we lose, there will be more legal costs – but we feel that this case is important and should be pursued, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. The educational NGOs we have been in touch with have confirmed that our case is not unique. There are other families suffering the same experiences as we are.
Even though we have lost so far, I am confident that our actions are changing the way the school operates and will make it think twice before lashing out at families with disability again. We are being supported by educational NGOs – but unfortunately, they are supporting us with advice, and not funds to pay our legal costs. I have had a meeting with our regional minister for education. In other words: things are happening; we are not giving up, and there are people listening to us – but the wheels of the legal system grind slowly, and the attention, advice and interest given our case is not helping us pay our legal bills, so we are reaching out to the UWC community to ask for help.